Is the great British high street in terminal decline? Perhaps not yet, but the outlook certainly isn’t rosy. Recent research shows the UK lost 5,855 high street shops last year, while the rate of store openings reached its lowest level in seven years. Focus in on fashion and the stats are even more dire: last month saw a 12.7 per cent year-on-year decrease in sales in the fashion sector.
The cause? Experts cite record levels of consumer debt, declining real wages, the rise of business rates and – of course – the continued march of online retail. Department stores House of Fraser and Debenhams – both long-time stalwarts of British high streets – are all said to weighing up large scale store closures, while NEXT reported a 7.9 per cent slump in its revenue, calling 2017 its toughest trading period for 25 years. Fast fashion favourite New Look entered into insolvency proceedings in March and will be axing 980 jobs and closing 60 stores. Following a string of head office and in-store redundancies, Sir Philip Green is reportedly looking for a buyer for some – or potentially all – of the brands that make up Arcadia group. The retail conglomerate owns Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge and menswear label Burton, as well as flagship fashion brands TOPSHOP and TOPMAN. The TOPSHOP brand is due to launch in China at the end of this year, despite having a patchy record when it comes to international expansion: the chain closed its Japanese stores in 2015 and last year TOPMAN Australia was placed in voluntary administration.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Swedish fashion giant H&M managed to hold steady: in the UK, where it has 286 stores, sales fell just 1 per cent, and the group’s chief executive has said he believes stores will return to like-for-like sales growth from 2019. And Inditex, the owner of Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear, reported a 7 per cent rise, although the growth is mainly from online. Similarly, Quiz – a Scottish fast-fashion brand with over 250 stores in the UK – announced a total sales growth of 30 per cent in the last six months, which it attributed to online growth, while fashion ecommerce giant ASOS is said to be on the brink of massive expansion after sales jumped by 27 per cent in the same period.
And more green shoots can be seen at the new £600m extension at London’s Westfield White City (which became Europe’s largest mall when it opened last month). The leading Chinese fashion chain Urban Revivo is set to launch its first UK store (a 22,000 sq ft unit) at the site, where it will join new branches of H&M, Mango and Boden. One of the extension’s most high-profile launches is an outpost of department store John Lewis that aims to capitalise on the trend for experiential marketing: customers can take part in fashion workshops and can visit personalisation stations and nail bars.